The third non fiction book I read last month was Einstein’s German World by Fritz Stern. With my limited knowledge of German culture it was a little above my level of understanding, but I could grasp the main points. The book is a collection of essays about Paul Ehrlich, the relationship between Fritz Haber and Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Walter Rathenau, historians of the Great War, the New Germany and Chaim Weizmann. The portrait of Fritz Haber [who played a major role in the development of chemical warfare] is far more sympathetic than that in the BBC production of Einstein and Eddington that appeared on our TV screens back in 2008. This is probably because the author Fritz Stern was Haber’s godson. I was rather surprised when I realised that Haber had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1918 so soon after he had personally overseen the gas attack at Ypres in 1915, in contravention of the 1907 Geneva Convention.
But this book is one long story of bitter tragedy and the introduction begins with this ironic passage.
It was in April 1979 in West Berlin. Raymond Aron and I were walking into an exhibit commemorating the centenary of the birth of Einstein [Nobel prize for Physics1921], Max von Laue [Nobel prize for Physics 1914], Otto Hahn [Nobel prize for Chemistry 1944], and Lise Meitner [should have won the Nobel prize with Hahn]. We were passing bombed-out squares and half-decrepit mansions of a once proud capital, our thoughts already at the exhibit, when Aron suddenly stopped at a crossing, turned to me and said, ” It could have been Germany’s Century.”
But I was not surprised to read in the essay about Paul Ehrlich [who won a Nobel prize for Medicine in 1908]…
Like Haber, he relaxed by reading detective novels. Arthur Conan Doyle’s portrait hung on the wall of his study, and the author sent some of his books as presents.